Scientists are working on a greener alternative for JP-10 fuel, or more commonly known as missile fuel.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have used bio-engineered bacterium to create synthesized pinene, which is naturally a plant-energy source. If scientists can increase the efficiency of production, this synthetic fuel may one-day replace today’s high-priced high-density fuels.
Graduate student Stephen Sarria and assistant professor Pamela Peralta-Yahya haven’t gotten it down to a perfect science. But, they’re headed in the right direction. Their work has led to a production of the synthetic fuel that is six-times as efficient as any attempt before.
The researchers say that while much research has gone into developing better biodiesel and ethanol fuels, not nearly as much has been done to find alternatives for high-density fuels like JP-10, which runs at about $25 per gallon.
“We are concentrating on making a ‘drop-in’ fuel that looks just like what is being produced from petroleum and can fit into existing distribution systems,” said Peralta-Yahya. “If you are trying to make an alternative to gasoline, you are competing against $3 per gallon. That requires a long optimization process. Our process will be competitive with $25 per gallon in a much shorter time.”
Colonies of bio-engineered E. coli, which were designed to synthesize the hydrocarbon pinene, were dropped into glucose. Researchers then discovered which enzymes produced pinene most efficiently.
But before any of the research reaches the market, the scientists have more work to do. In order to have a competitive advantage next to current fuel sales, they must increase the pinene production efficiency by 26 times.
Peralta-Yahya isn’t discouraged. “Even though we are still in the milligrams [of pinene] per liter level,” she said, “Because the product we are trying to make is so much more expensive than diesel or gasoline means that we are relatively closer.”
The full study may be found in the ACS Synthetic Biology academic journal. In the meantime, it sounds like we’ll have to keep paying $25 for a gallon of missile fuel for a little bit longer.
FEATURED PHOTO: Georgia Tech Photo/Rob Felt